the green knight – marketing recap

How A24 sold an adaptation of an epic – and convoluted – story.

(ed note: This should have been published last week, but life got in the way. Let’s move on…)

For a good long while it seemed like there was no movie film critics were more anticipating than director David Lowery’s adaptation of a 14th-century poem, The Green Knight. The movie, in theaters now after long Covid-related delays, stars Dev Patel as Sir Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur who enjoys the leisurely life instead of going out and making a name for himself with acts of heroism and bravery. When his mother summons the mysterious Green Knight to help him become the man he should be, it sets in motion a series of events that will send Gawain on a quest where his fate is uncertain.

The movie, which also stars Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton and others, has an impressive 90% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. While the campaign has been stop-and-start because of the aforementioned delays, it has also been consistent in selling a fantasy journey even if the story hasn’t always been clear to the casual viewer.

The Posters

Just one poster (by marketing agency BOND) got out last February before the release was delayed. It shows a crowned Gawain from beyond, his head in stark contrast to the bright red background. Copy along both sides reads “When honor was everything. When courage made kings.” Both those help setup the story and setting while hiding the main character’s face helps to establish the character more than the actor.

The same design was used on a series of character posters released over a year later, in early May of this year. These showed the Lord, Lady and The Green Knight himself and playfully acknowledged the long delay with copy reading “One year hence”, which also ties into the story.

Gawane got his own poster that actually shows his face around the same time.

He stands seemingly triumphant – or at least defiant – on the final poster from mid-June.

The Trailers

We’re introduced to Gawain in the first trailer (5.6m views on YouTube) from February 2020 as someone who is out to prove himself and achieve greatness. To do that he will set out on an adventure that is fraught with danger, shown here as visions of terrible outcomes and fates that might befall him. All of that is communicated through the imagery of storytelling, specifically the kind of puppet show used to entertain children. It’s creepy, trippy and more than a little intriguing.

With the delays to the movie’s release it wasn’t until May 2021 that the second trailer (14m views on YouTube) came out. This one sells a much different story, one that is centered on Gawain’s quest to slay a creature he had faced before but which promised they would meet again one year later. That quest means he’s facing plenty of peril, has to rely on uncertain allies and is otherwise in a lot of danger.

Online and Social

You’ll find only basic information on A24’s page for the movie, but the social updates, both on a standalone profile and the studio’s, offered more context and background.

Advertising, Publicity and Promotions

While a premiere screening was initially announced for SXSW, when that festival was cancelled those plans were understandably thrown out the window. Lowery later admitted making that premiere date would have been difficult, but he also remained unsure at the time if the movie would get a theatrical release or eventually go straight to streaming or VOD.

A24 wound up punting the movie’s theatrical release date indefinitely in May, 2020.

While a new date was pending, the studio announced The Green Knight: A Quest for Honor, a tabletop game with a story set in the same world as the film. A promotional video showed off some of the game play.

A new release date was finally announced in March, with the movie scheduled to hit theaters almost exactly a year after it was originally intended to.

In late June a video was released with Ralph Ineson narrating a recap of the history of the epic poem the movie is based on as well as an overview of the story, though it’s still somewhat confusing.

Promos such as this began airing and running in mid-July. They didn’t offer much in the way of story, but continued to create a sense of mystery about the movie’s story. More traditional spots came out a bit later.

IGN debuted an exclusive clip of King Arthur asking his court for a good story of great deeds before the Green Knight himself comes in to interrupt the proceedings.

An exclusive clip at Fandango MovieClips picks up where the IGN clip left off, The Green Knight’s challenge being read aloud in King Arthor’s court.

Another clip shows the kind of life Gawain is leading before his fate catches up with him.

Just as the finish line seemed in view, news broke just last week that the release had been pulled from U.K. theaters. ‘

How Lowery filmed a key sequence in the film and how he subsequently refined it over the extended period afforded by the pandemic-related delays, was covered in an interview with the director.

Patel got the full profile treatment here, including how he’s been very selective about his roles over the course of his career.

Another interview with Lowery had the director talking about how he became aware of the source material, how he cast Patel and more.

Overall

Once the campaign got going a couple months ago it became a lot of fun. Until that point it was a tad on the dense and somewhat confusing side, not terribly so but certainly enough that casual fans might have given up on it.

In that way it presented one of the biggest challenges of all the films delayed during the pandemic. Not being part of a franchise or series meant there weren’t those easy hooks to hang audience interest on, so it couldn’t rely on a slow drip of word of mouth and press coverage.

On the whole it surmounted that challenge nicely, but likely without gaining much and who knows how much of the potential target audience from February 2020 is willing to head to the theater right now. Whatever the movie’s fate, though, the marketing can’t be blamed, especially when you put the mystery and tone created in the early elements in the context of Lowery’s career.

The Old Man and the Gun – Marketing Recap

old man and the gun posterRobert Redford is one of the most charismatic, charming and talented actors to ever grace the silver screen. With 78 acting credits to his name since 1960, he reteams with director David Lowery for the second time in this week’s The Old Man and The Gun.

In the movie Redford stars as Forrest Tucker, a man who’s enjoyed a long career as a generally non-violent, gentlemanly robber of banks. He’s still having fun with his chosen vocation, but feels time running out on him. One day he meets Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a widow whose path he crosses while on the run from the authorities. The two develop a romance as Forrest eludes the police on his tail, led by Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck).

The Posters

Tucker’s face is obscured as he places a fedora on his head on the poster. It’s a simple poster, just showing him walking along carrying a case (presumably of money) and looking dapper. An old-fashioned typeface is used for the title treatment and other copy, including the tagline that qualifies the movie, admitting to the audience that “This story is mostly true.”

The Trailers

Redford breezes through the first trailer (and likely the entire movie) as we meet Tucker and see how while he may be a bank robber he’s exceedingly polite about it, always leaving his victims with a positive sense of the experience. The trailer is structured primarily around Tucker meeting Jewel and the two of them starting up a late-in-life romance, her eventually accepting what he does for kicks. There’s also the search for him by police, but that almost seems secondary.

We don’t deserve Robert Redford. I mean…it’s not even fair.

The second trailer hits many of the same story points in showing how Tucker so nonchalantly robs banks for the thrill, not necessarily for the money. Different here is the focus on the other members of his crew, while the relationship with Jewel is relegated to just a couple scenes showing their cautious flirtation and romance. It’s got the same vibe, though.

Online and Social

Fox Searchlight’s official website for the movie has some basic information like the trailer, a story synopsis, cast and filmmaker profiles and details on release dates. There were also Facebook and Twitter profiles where the studio shared updates on the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Media and Publicity

The first still from the movie was accompanied by news of it finally getting a release date. Later on Redford made comments about how this was going to be his final acting job. He confirmed that decision closer to release, saying the time had simply come for him to “escape” from the lifestyle and work.

The movie was announced as one of those screening at the Toronto International Film Festival as well as the London Film Festival. It also scored the prestigious opening slot at the Telluride Film Festival.

Redford shared how and why he says “yes” to a movie and why he said “yes” to this one while Lowery talks about how he worked to get that answer from the actor.

There was also coverage of how the movie started out its life as a 1999 feature in The New Yorker that profiled the real Forrest Tucker and his exploits. That history meant it was one of the movies produced by Conde Nast Entertainment, a division of the publishing company that’s had trouble taking off since its inception about five years ago but which was hoping this year would bring a turnaround.

Redford and Spacek, either on their own or together, appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning,” “PBS Newshour,” and “The Today Show” among other shows.” Costar Danny Glover, who plays a member of Tucker’s crew, was also interviewed about working with Redford.

Redford later expressed regret for bringing the focus of the publicity for the movie and his reported retirement, saying he shouldn’t have drawn attention away like that. It wasn’t the walk-back some sites framed it as, just him saying he should have kept his mouth shut in the moment.

Overall

Redford’s easy, confident charm has brought him through a career that’s lasted over 50 years. The campaign here shows that persona is just as strong now as it was when he broke out as a major star in the late 60s, when he was a king of 70s cinema, when he was the romantic elder statesman in the 80s and the commanding veteran of the 00s and 10s.

Mostly what’s shown is the story is a great vehicle for Redford to be everything he can be. It’s a silly kind of story that could be played for laughs in the wrong hands, but the marketing shows the actor and his costars, under Lowery’s direction, play it straight, pulling the drama out while still allowing the sly wink and smile the lead is best known for.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

I missed this story the first time around, but Sissy Spacek shares a charming anecdote about meeting Robert Redford that’s 100% relatable.

Director David Lowery says shooting the movie in Texas really helped capture the authenticity father story, even if most of it was shot in Ohio as a stand-in for Texas. He and the cast appeared in a featurette where they all talked about the story and characters. Another interview had him talking more at length about working with Redford for the second time, as did this one.

More from Spacek here and here, the latter coming to my attention thanks to an email blast from Conde Nast, the media company that helped produce the film.

Additional TV spots like this have been released to keep up audience interest. And a new featurette focuses on how the movie reunited Redford with his longtime stunt double.

Lowery shares some expanded thoughts on the role guns play not just in the story but in the world along with more comments about working with Redford again and more.